Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Saturday night’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered with each week with the answers to six race-day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.
Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
A year ago, Furniture Row Racing showed everyone what they were capable of in good equipment. This year, with similar Richard Childress Racing backing, AJ Allmendinger is helping JTG Daugherty Racing make a similar statement. Allmendinger ran a strong race on Saturday night, nearly cracking the top five with his sixth-place run and showing that the small teams aren’t small because they lack talent, but because they lack competitive cars, information and technology. It’s good for the sport when these teams do well against the sport’s behemoths because it’s a bit of a microcosm of the real world, where it’s getting harder and harder for individuals to get ahead in the face of huge corporations. It’s human nature to root for the underdog and to appreciate the “little guy,” so these underdog success stories enhance the sport overall.
What… beyond the teams’ control affected the action?
Once again, the struggles Goodyear is having with tire compounds came to the forefront when several teams suffered from tires cording and going down. A number of drivers had fires under their cars as the tires disintegrated, including Clint Bowyer, who finished last as a result. Reed Sorenson, whose No. 36 got damaged the worst was pulled from his flaming car on pit road. Cole Whitt’s BK Racing ride looked flame-broiled itself while it dropped burning pieces of tire all over the place, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also had flames shooting from his car.
The problem is that it’s a Catch-22 for Goodyear and for fans because either incidents like this one (and the problems we saw at Fontana) are going to happen while Goodyear works on finding a compound that wears out and creates tire strategy without falling apart. It’s either that or we go back to the rock-hard tires that make for racing that’s painful to watch. To a degree, teams can certainly minimize the tire issues by running less aggressive setups. If the problem was solely a bad tire, all the cars would have the same problems, and there would be more incidents throughout a race. That’s not been the case, though. Still, it’s clear that more work needs to be done from both ends to ensure that tire strategy enhances races instead of hurting the action.
Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Kyle Larson continued to show that he’s not only a threat for Rookie of the Year honors, but also for winning. Larson got the top starting spot by virtue of his practice speed after qualifying was rained out, part of showing speed and prowess all weekend long. Unfortunately for Larson, he got tagged by Bowyer on the first lap of the race which dropped him to the rear of the field. Larson was able to recover somewhat to finish 16th, still good for Rookie of the Race honors, but clearly lacked the confidence and speed to get back to the front after that moment.
Kevin Harvick won this race a year ago, and he kicked off the weekend with a win in the Nationwide Series event. Harvick looked like he’d be a threat on Saturday night, too, starting fifth on his practice speed and running in the top five most of the race. He led twice for 23 laps, but in a reversal of his “closer” reputation, he faded late and finished 11th. Still, Harvick moved into 20th in points, which should erase any doubt about his making the Chase on two wins. All in all, it was a strong weekend for a team that’s looking like they could be a serious player when the Chase does roll around.
When… did it all go sideways?
The race at Richmond produced some close-quarters racing and plenty of heat from burning tires… but it got even hotter after the race. Brad Keselowski brake-checked Matt Kenseth on the cool-down lap and then went up to the No. 20 car on pit road to express his displeasure at Kenseth for blocking from the lead in the closing laps. Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered damaged cars in the incident as well. Earnhardt, understandably perturbed by having his car damaged after the race, said, “The No. 2 (Keselowski) was mad at the No. 20 (Kenseth) and he slammed on [his] brakes after the checkered and the No. 47 (Allmendinger) ran into the No. 20 and I ran into the No. 20 and I don’t know what that was all about. You know, get over it.”
Meanwhile, tempers flared between two drivers who are usually among the most laidback in the garage. Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose had a heated discussion after Ambrose got into Mears and cut his tire late as Mears was gunning for a top-15 finish. Ambrose tried to turn his back on Mears, who clearly wanted to continue the conversation, and when Ambrose shook him, Mears gave Ambrose a shove. Ambrose responded by throwing a right hook to Mears’s face, leaving him with a cut and swollen eye. It’s likely that NASCAR will penalize Ambrose for throwing a punch, and Mears indicated that he’s not going to forgive and forget either. “I don’t think it’s something you just forget,” he said Sunday. “That’s kind of where it sits.” Teams don’t return to the short tracks until August at Bristol, but drivers have long memories, so any of the year’s conflicts could rear their heads again, potentially at the All-Star Race in just a couple of weeks.
Why… did Joey Logano win the race?
Two words: controlled aggression. Logano was aggressive enough throughout the race that he was in solid position at the end. Then, when Kenseth, Keselowski and Jeff Gordon got caught up in the short-track trap of letting tempers flare, Logano made a bold move to dive underneath all three to take the lead.
There was a time when Logano let others push him around, and his results suffered. Now, he doesn’t take guff, and as a result, he’s able to race others with mutual respect. He’s still young and a bit hot-headed, but he’s learned to channel his aggression into some bold moves on the track. That’s made him a winning driver and the second one to guarantee himself a Chase berth, provided he stays inside the top 30 in points, which he should easily do.
How… did the little guys do?
JTG-Daugherty Racing; Allmendinger (No. 47 Bush’s Grillin’ Beans Chevy): Allmendinger and his team continue to improve, this week flirting with a top-five finish, something the small teams usually only see in their dreams. Two of three RCR satellites had top-10 runs and the third was headed there before being derailed by a cut tire. It’s looking like this team is making the deal pay off the way Furniture Row did a year ago, which means you may not see them on this list much longer. And that would be a great step forward for this single-car operation.
Germain Racing; Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): You’ve probably seen the post-race incident between Mears and Marcos Ambrose by now, but what was missed in the shuffle was that Mears was headed for at least a top-15 finish (and very possibly a top 10) before a speeding penalty, after starting 34th derailed him. The GEICO Chevy was moving forward after it, running 16th, when Ambrose got into the No. 13 and cut the left front tire, triggering the post-race confrontation that left Mears sporting a cut and swollen left eye. In reality, though, this race was this team’s strongest run of the year, the one where they finally put everything together and were on the way to a finish to prove it. It’s easy to see why the driver was so upset that it was derailed.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & David Reutimann & David Gilliland (No. 34 Taco Bell Ford & No. 35 MDS Transport Ford & No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford): Only four drivers on this list finished on the lead lap in Richmond, and Gilliland was one of them, finishing 20th, 13 places better than he started and showing once again that he’s quietly become this team’s best driver week in and week out. A top 20 is a decent day for a small team these days, considering the caliber of the competition. Reutimann’s 29th-place finish was second-best on the team, with Ragan finishing 30th, four laps behind. Three teams in the top 30 isn’t a bad day for a team in this group, all in all.
HScott Motorsports; Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Brandt Chevy): Allgaier’s 21st-place result came with a lead-lap finish, just the second time he’s done that this year, and it’s both impressive and not surprising that he had a solid day on a short track. It’s easy to go a lap down and fall back when the leaders catch the field so quickly, but Allgaier has a short-track background and handled Richmond well. This team is a bit behind where Phoenix Racing was a year ago, but new ownership and a new driver mean some growing pains, so there’s no reason to panic. Denny Hamlin should be the one on edge, as a possible top-10 finish got derailed when Allgaier hit the wall, courtesy a bump from the No. 11 late in the race. Sources say the rookie is still angry over that contact which prevented a possible career-best result.
Circle Sport; David Stremme & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Newtown Building Supplies Chevy & No. 40 Atlantic Plumbing Chevy): Cassill continues to exceed expectations, this week finishing 26th. Cassill isn’t eligible for driver points (he declared for the Nationwide Series) but the team is 31st in owner points, ahead of the better-funded Nos. 34 and 7, despite failing to qualify twice (though teams do get minimal owner points for attempting a race). Stremme was a questionable choice for this team given his inconsistent history, and this week, he finished 11 spots behind Cassill, five laps down in 35th.
BK Racing; Alex Bowman & Whitt & Ryan Truex (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 Scorpyd Toyota & No. 83 VooDoo Barbeque and Grill Toyota): Richmond proved to be quite a challenge for this team and its three rookie drivers. Bowman and Truex finished 28th and 31st, respectively, closer to what this team ran the last couple of years, but again not able to help them improve. Newly acquired teammate Whitt was in one of four cars that caught fire during the race when the right front tire overheated, and as a result, he ran 40th. This team has some good young talent, but perhaps a veteran presence to bounce some information off, like Bobby Labonte, would have been a valuable addition to the mix.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Michael Annett & Sorenson (No. 7 Pilot Flying J Chevy & No. 36 Chevy): This team continues to struggle to find a foothold. Annett qualified a respectable 23rd on his practice speed, but fell back almost immediately, sinking to 33rd by the time the checkers flew. Sorenson was pulled from his burning car on pit road after a tire fire, and the No. 36 was too damaged to continue (42nd).
GoFAS Racing; Travis Kvapil (No. 32 Keen Parts Ford): Kvapil’s best position all night was his 32nd-place starting spot — he fell back afterward and came home 36th, six laps down (though he did lead a lap under caution). This team is another whose driver choice was questionable. They made a little headway with Timmy Hill last year, but any progress seems to be halted so far in 2014.
Jay Robinson Racing; Joe Nemechek (No. 66 Virginia Farm Bureau Toyota): You have to hand it to Nemechek; he’s out there every week, no matter what the odds, at an age where many drivers would call it a career if they were in his shoes. Nemechek finished nine laps down in 37th this week. It’s a little perplexing why owner Jay Robinson chose to move to the Cup Series in the first place — his Nationwide Series efforts are badly underfunded and not performing as it is, and the Cup Series is more expensive, though the purses are a bit better.
Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford): You almost have to feel sorry for Michael McDowell, who moved from this team to the No. 95 for the opportunity to run complete races, even on a limited schedule. But while McDowell failed to qualify for this week’s show, this team is going the distance every week so far. This race, Wise finished 10 laps down in 39th (right where he started). Not great, but valuable notes were collected for the future.
Xxxtreme Motorsports; JJ Yeley (No. 30 Phoenix Warehouse Chevy): After taking over the assets from Swan Racing, this team hopes to give Yeley a better chance to make the field and improve the team. That didn’t happen in Richmond, where Yeley ran in the mid-30s until the engine expired with just a handful of laps remaining. Will the one-car operation improve? Swan Racing had been making some gains, so it’s possible; they’ll start using the purchased Toyota equipment next week.